Two days before Mark Lippert, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, was attacked by an enigmatic knife-wielding crackpot named Kim Ki-Jong and slashed in the face, North Korea was promising “merciless strikes” against America and South Korea, and warning that “the situation on the Korean peninsula is again inching close to the brink of a war.”
At the moment, the authorities have not established any definitive ties between Kim and North Korea. He is an activist with a long history of theatrically weird behavior – he even tried to set himself on fire once, and tried to attack the ambassador from Japan with a piece of concrete in 2010 – who apparently shares the North Korean regime’s extreme distaste for the joint U.S.-South Korean military drills currently in progress. He was shouting “South and North Korea should be reunified!” during the attack. There are plenty of people in both South and North Korea who share that sentiment, although they have very different ideas of what the reunified Korean peninsula would look like.
The Korea Herald refers to Kim as a “55-year-old progressive activist” and quotes several South Korean politicians describing him as a political terrorist who was trying to “present his opinion through violence,” giving the distinct impression that they believe any malevolent organized force behind him would be headquartered south of the DMZ.
Kim heads up a group called the Urimadang Dokdo Keepers, which International Business Times describes as “a left-wing organization that protests Japan’s territorial claims over the disputed islands known as Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan.” His blog posts have lately focused more on denouncing South Korea’s joint military exercises with the United States, which he said were “the reason why the union between family members couldn’t take place” – a reference to the reunification of North and South Korea.
It is, however, rather suspicious timing that North Korea was in the midst of blowing a gasket over those military exercises, as they always do. An AFP report notes that North Korea shot a couple of short-range missiles into the sea (a rather expensive method of flipping the bird for an impoverished basket-case nation) and declared that war on the peninsula was imminent.
“The only means to cope with the aggression and war by the US imperialists and their followers is neither dialogue nor peace. They should be dealt with only by merciless strikes,” said a spokesman for the North Korean military. He described the U.S.-South Korea exercises as “dangerous nuclear war drills for invading the DPRK,” and vowed “our revolutionary armed forces will never remain a passive onlooker to this grave situation.”
It is always difficult to gauge how serious North Korea’s belligerent rhetoric is. They have been threatening apocalyptic war for years, and it has not happened, although they have certainly taken some provocative steps and killed a few innocent people along the way. Surreptitiously enlisting a South Korean political activist for a knife attack on the U.S. Ambassador does not seem like their style, but then, consistency is not a dependable feature of psychotic regimes.